For those of you who have me figured out, you realize I’m all about the images. I try not to get too wordy in my posts. I like to let the photos speak for themselves. But this post has a story to it, one that has to be told in its long version to be appreciated.
I started with this toffee recipe back before I bought a bed and breakfast in Maine in 2004. It fact, made it several times, successfully. So when we bought the inn, I thought I’d make it as my thing, to put in the candy dishes in the rooms every day. It would become my signature candy, no commercial candies for me, it had to be homemade. So one day I got out my trusty candy thermometer (the same one I used before when making the toffee) along with the other ingredients and started making toffee.
Let me first preface the rest of the story by saying DO NOT MAKE TOFFEE AT CHECK-IN TIME. Repeat, DO NOT MAKE TOFFEE AT CHECK-IN TIME. My kitchen was open to the guest entrance (which I loved) so in walk some guests to check in. I’m standing over my pot of melted butter and sugar in its light golden stage of yumminess. I tell my guests that I’ll just leave the mixture on low while I give them the tour and show them to their room. They even offer to wait until I’m done (maybe they had more sense than I did given that I was using a candy thermometer- pretty serious stuff). But NO, DON’T WORRY, THE CARAMEL IS STILL IN THE VERY EARLY STAGES AND NOT EVEN READING 200 YET (it needed to reach 290)…so off we go. You can see where this is going. After a few minutes upstairs I begin to smell smoke. I run downstairs to the kitchen and the caramel in the pan is as BLACK as ASPHALT and smoking the house up. Thankfully the smoke alarms didn’t go off (my guess is that because Summer in Maine is gorgeous we leave all windows open almost all Spring/Summer/and part of Fall. I ran outside with the pan so that it could continue to smoke OUTSIDE and not INSIDE. Baking is supposed to make the inn smell good, right? The rest of the checkins that day heard my “don’t assume the smell of burned food will be what’s to come in the morning, please!!!!” and they all laughed.
Over the next year I attempted to make toffee again, promising NEVER to leave the pan unattended again. I followed the recipe exactly. Removed the mixture from the heat when the thermometer read 290. But it still looked too pale to be done. But I followed the recipe. After a handful of attempts and trashed toffee, I bought a new thermometer. This time, a fancy digital thermometer.
So it had been a while before I decided to try making toffee again. But now that I have a new thermometer, I was confident. But this time I had just been given a gift of a box of See’s Peanut Brittle, I think it was just before the holidays, and we happened to have a little snow on the ground. If you haven’t tasted See’s brittle, GO ONLINE and BUY IT NOW, it’s just amazing. Or maybe you shouldn’t because you could become addicted and be in my predicament of trying to create it at home…So the primary difference between brittle and toffee is baking soda and/or cream of tartar, it some how changes the texture just slightly.
I get all of my ingredients out, new candy thermometer and I decide to make brittle. I follow the recipe (except I used too small a saucepan but couldn’t have imagined that would matter)…WRONG. Candy making tip: DO NOT ASSUME WHEN MAKING CANDY. Repeat: DO NOT ASSUME WHEN MAKING CANDY. When it comes time to add the baking soda at just the precise moment, I add it and am prepared to stir quickly as the recipe reads, but I wasn’t prepared for a big VOLCANIC ERUPTION from my 3 quart saucepan. Fortunately my kitchen door was only 15 feet from the stove, I ran with the erupting saucepan outside and leaned over the porch rail JUST IN TIME for the blobby bubbly brown mess to pour over the edge of the pan and plop onto the beautiful WHITE SNOW. This brown blobby mess hardened in the once white snow immediately, AT OUR INN’S FRONT ENTRANCE, looking like someone had a bad case of the stomach flu (oh dear what if our guests thought it was from my breakfast?) My husband tried to remove the hardened candy from the snow but it wasn’t as easy as he thought. So he covered the mess up with more snow. Out of sight, out of mind…so the blobby mess sat beneath a winter’s worth of snow. By spring there was no sign of it. That was my FIRST and LAST attempt at making brittle.
So YEARS LATER after we sold our inn…I decide to get the almonds out of the pantry and right away my husband knew where I was going with this. He said “uh oh”, but right away I said “no, you know what, I’m making my original toffee and I’m NOT going to rely on the thermometer. I know what color it should be.” And that’s exactly what I did. I used both thermometers just to verify what I thought all along, that my eye knew what would be right. The thermometers gave an inaccurate reading. And many chefs do things the same way, by touch, taste, appearance, smell, using the senses. MY TOFFEE TURNED OUT PERFECTLY DELICIOUS WITH JUST THE RIGHT TEXTURE.
SO HERE’S THE RECIPE with my coconut twist:
3 cups whole raw almonds (you can buy them already roasted but I prefer to roast my own)
2 cups shredded coconut
2 sticks butter
1 tablespoon water
1 cup white sugar
6 tablespoons corn syrup
1. roast almonds and coconut on sheet pan in oven on 300 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. Let them cool.
2. chop the nuts in a processor – stopping halfway to reserve about half the mixture leaving some larger pieces, then continue to pulse into small pieces.
3. put butter in 3 quart saucepan (we’re not adding baking soda so this size is adequate!) and add the water, corn syrup and sugar and heat to melt over medium heat.
4. Once melted, bring mixture to a boil over medium high heat, stirring with heatproof spatula occasionally for about 10 minutes (here is where the recipe calls for heating to 290 degrees) but I say heat it until it JUST gets to the right color of toffee (camel brown) and then remove from heat.
5. immediately add the large chop nuts and half of the small chop nuts and quickly fold to combine. The mixture will harden quickly.
6. spread onto parchment lined sheet pan with an offset spatula or heatproof spatula to the desired thickness.
7. top with 2 cups of chocolate chips (I prefer semi-sweet but you can use milk chocolate or a combination), let sit for a couple minutes, then spread the melting chips over the toffee.
8. top the melted chocolate with the remaining finely chopped nuts and let sit at least a few hours at room temperature. When completely set, break into pieces and store in an airtight container. Freezes beautifully!
This recipe is in my Cookbook, The Art of Breakfast (which includes baked goods, chocolates, etc!)